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Project Slow Downs:
What Happens Behind the Curtain

In Good Taste | February 2020

Project Slow-Downs: What Happens Behind the Curtain (or Drape)

Quick story…  I had lunch with a top notch designer in a field that isn’t interiors tell me about her experience working with her interior designer while building-out her new construction luxury penthouse in Boston.  (This is a new friend, so she didn’t know me/taste when she started her project.  Too bad.)

She’s a sought-after, highly accomplished designer in similar field, so she approached the project with a level of confidence about how things get done.  It must be the same, right?  Budgeting, selections, procurement, coordination of people/materials and always a plan B for when things go awry.

And she was knocked off her __.  “It’s so different, Patti, and no one prepared me.  No one trained me.  There’s no book/podcast/website/course that teaches a client what to really expect during design and construction.  I can’t imagine how your clients who don’t have my somewhat related design experience get through the process without losing their minds.”

Unfortunately – but correctly in my book – she lays the responsibility for the lack of preparation/training of herself as a client on her interior designer. And because that designer didn’t prepare her for the little things along the way that make a big difference in the experience, she considers the relationship a failure and the two no longer speak.

I left that lunch with a clarified purpose – to share with my clients an honest picture of what to expect over the course of a design and construction experience.  Knowledge is power.  And in this case, the power to be more at ease during the ebbs and flows of a project and ultimately, to actually enjoy the experience.  Not to mention, have an enduring, healthy relationship with your design team well after you’ve moved in (!).

Note: Since then, I’ve written a few posts with this honest, tell-all purpose in mind, including how to be prepared for the trying moments in a project and why shop drawings are critical.

Today we’re going to focus on the timeline of a new construction/renovation project and most importantly — when to be ready for the progress to naturally slow down.

There are a few moments along the path that you need to be ready for.  Frustrating days when you’ll hear yourself asking:
– ‘Why can’t this get done faster?
– ‘What’s the hold-up and is it because someone is making this overly complicated?’
– ‘Oh my god, I thought we were making good progress and now things seems to be crawling.’

To get started, here are the phases of a construction timeline.  My seasoned general contractor friends will probably see this and want to add far more detail, but I’ve intentionally kept it a top-line summary for our clients and this conversation.

 

So, fast forward to the start of construction on the timeline.  You’ve been working with your design team for months/perhaps years and are eager to see some tangible, three dimensional progress – (and probably invest your funds in things like concrete and wood, instead of planning and design).

The house plans have ‘schedules’ (architects’/designers’ name for a detailed list in a spreadsheet format) that specify elements like windows, doors and lighting.  Your general contractor has a detailed Gantt chart detailing the timeline of the project.  All is underway.

So here’s where to expect things to slow down a bit along the path…  Today we’ll focus on windows and doors – in step #3 on the path to your new home.

Ordering windows and doors: what it takes to get it right.

Loaded with details, choices and opportunities for mistakes, the generation of a window order takes time by the architect, the builder and believe it or not, your interior designer should review it, too. We often see deadlines on schedules or communicated with clients that the windows will be ordered ‘next week’ when in fact they end up being ordered easily 3-4 weeks later – especially if you’re considering a few different window/door manufacturers.

Why does this slow-down in the schedule happen? There are several good reasons – none intended to be excuses, but rather a behind-the-scenes view into what’s being considered when finalizing the window and door package.

It takes several eyes and perspectives to consider all aspects of a window/door and to catch an error. From an interiors perspective, windows should be reviewed in elevations (those flat drawings of each wall in your plan set), with finished trim and window treatments top of mind and with the living/furnishing intentions.
Architecture: Smook Architects; Interiors: taste

 

For example:
  • We think about a lot about the window sill height above the floor, especially when there’s a view to enjoy. There’s nothing worse than having a great view cut off when you’re sitting on the sofa looking across the room.  We’re always mindful of bringing windows closer to the floor and you’ll find us setting up mock-ups in the studio to get the window sill height right.

  • That said, if we drop the windows too low and we’re finishing the room with a chair rail and panels, too little wall under the windows means we’re left with a sliver of a recessed panel that looks silly.  Finding the balance is key.

  • If we’re designing with double hung windows, we always think about the height of the check-rails.  What’s a check rail?  It’s the horizontal rail of wood at the top of the bottom sash.  Why is it important?  Because depending on your height and place in the room, the check rail can land right at eye level and block your view.  Can we get it right all the time, no.  But we sure as heck try. Here’s my painful story to share why check rail heights are important.

When I first started my firm 15 years ago, I redesigned a master suite for clients with a water view.  As the renovation got underway, the contractor advised on replacing the failing windows and asked that I select and specify.  I did, the windows came in and we found out that the check rail height impeded my clients’ view from their bed.  Their previous windows didn’t block the view, but the new ones I selected did.  Needless to say, I took full responsibility for the oversight and had the windows delivered to my garage.  Ouch.  I purchased the correct windows for my clients on my meager entrepreneurial income (thankfully, there were only three).  To this day, all team taste members consider check rail height, right down to our clients’ height and where they will be in the room when they look out the windows, thanks to my expensive mistake.

  • We talk about window treatments and the control of natural light when windows are being designed/selected. Do you have an east facing view in a bedroom with a Palladian (aka half round) window? It’s hard to put a window treatment on those windows, so we need to ensure there’s room right and left of the windows for draperies to stack on the wall.

 

  • Speaking of draperies, if you love them but also want every bit of your view, we need to be sure windows are sized so that the drapes stack on the wall – not on the windows to hide your view. Of course, the windows need to be correctly sized for the exterior of your home, too, so it takes architect and interior designer to come together to consider all aspects. No one person can design a custom home. It takes everyone on the team.

  • Kitchen windows need careful attention.  Windows over the sink should take sill height and backsplash height into account.  Specifically, sills should be at least 4″ above the countertop, or you’ll run the risk of a sliver of tile in between (unless of course you have a slick detail with windows that sit directly on top of the countertop).

  • We think a lot about furniture placement in a room, particularly bedrooms.  Windows on the headboard wall, for example, are best over nightstands and whenever possible, we look to ensure that the bed is correctly sized on plan, to inform the right placement of windows.  (That double bed on the furnishings floor plan will throw off the window placement when the actual king bed arrives…).

 

  • Lastly, you’ll see, and ultimately appreciate, the time your architect takes to adjust window sizes to get the size of grille openings to be compatible.  A nine lite French door will have different sized window ‘panes’ than a double hung window with nine lights over one, for example.  Reviewing window manufacturer’s shop drawings – not just the schematics in the window catalog – is key to getting these divided lite sizes working in harmony.
Architecture: Smook Architects

So, be prepared for a little slow down in the schedule when it comes time for the window order to be placed.  Its time well invested and will help to ensure you don’t have window regrets later on.

Next time we’ll talk about two other places on the construction timeline that naturally slow down to ensure a high-quality outcome.  Until then, keep the faith in your team and trust they will find ways to expedite the design/construction schedule whenever possible (it does happen!).

Only the best,